FROM THE LIBRARY OF JOHN MARSHALL “The great Chief Justice” - O. W. Holmes Jr
(MARSHALL, JOHN.) Gilbert, Sir Geoffrey. The History and Practice of the High Court of Chancery
London: Printed by Henry Lintot for J. Worral and W. Owen, 1758
Contemporary tan calf, red morocco label. Light browning. Joints neatly reinforced. A handsome copy. Fine half morocco case.
FIRST EDITION of this law book from the library of John Marshall, signed twice (on the front free endpaper and on the front cover). The most important chief justice in the history of the United States Supreme Court, John Marshall was one of the great figures in the establishment of our judicial, legal, and political system.
John Marshall rose quickly from frontier log cabin beginnings (albeit from one of Virginia’s leading families) to become one of the most respected statesmen in America. After serving for a year as secretary of state under John Adams, Marshall became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a post he held from 1801 to 1835. Over those 35 years he transformed the Court, established the power of judicial review, and helped define the Constitution for future generations, making the third branch co-equal with the executive and legislative branches. As Story wrote, “Your expositions of constitutional law enjoy a rare and extraordinary authority. They constitute a monument of fame far beyond the ordinary memorials of political and military glory. They are destined to enlighten, instruct, and convince future generations; and can scarcely perish but with the memory of the constitution itself” (Story, Commentaries).
As a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Marshall chaired a committee in 1787 to amend the act establishing the High Court of Chancery in Virginia. It is likely that Marshall used this very book, Gilbert’s Chancery, in preparing to reform the law, which had been written by Thomas Jefferson ten years before (see Beveridge, Life of John Marshall I: 224-25). Gilbert (1674-1726) was an important English jurist whose writings were widely read by the Founders. For example, Jefferson owned five of his books. Gilbert ultimately rose to the position of Chief Baron of the Exchequer of England in 1725. His Chancery was an enormously influential book: “all other works on equity, which have subsequently appeared may be, in some sense, considered as modifications of Lord Gilbert’s treatise” (Isaac Grant).
This rare book from John Marshall’s library is an outstanding legal and constitutional history association copy.